Rise and Rise Again, Until Lambs Become Lions — Robin Hood gets an origin story
Sunday, May 16, 2010
posted by Jim Cornelius
When my father was a ten-year-old boy, he lurked around the Huntington Park set of Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), watching stuntmen take arrows to their padded torsos and fall off their horses.
He won’t recognize the 2010 version of Robin Hood.
The Ridley Scott epic is — thankfully — no romp in Sherwood Forest. It is a violent, somber depiction of the origins of the outlaw legend. That may actually hurt the film at the box office. If audiences are expecting wisecracks and derring-do, they will be disappointed. The film makers are telling a serious story, and mostly they succeed.
Audience reactions in the theater I saw Robin Hood in on Friday night were positive — it drew a round of applause at the end and the people I was with thought it was well-done. Reviews overall have been mixed.
From the perspective of a Howard reader, it has a lot to recommend it. Robin Hood boasts the most lived-in medieval setting I’ve yet encountered. Most medieval period settings look like a film set or — worse — a theme park. Robin Hood actually shows us a functioning society, where people of various classes are working to make a living.
The landscape is magnificent, with the kind of tangled, haunted forests that inspired Tolkien.
This being a Ridley Scott production, the battle scenes — from siege to skirmish — are well-executed, pushing the PG-13 rating in their violence and giving a good flavor of the chaos and terror of in-your-face medieval warfare.
Harold Lamb would have appreciated how far we’ve come from sanitized Cecil B. DeMille epics, how close we are to his depiction of medieval warfare as “10,000 axes red with blood.”
The costuming is authentic-looking and, again, lived in. My only complaint in prop or costume is the French landing craft that seem wildly anachronistic to me, looking like World War II-era LCI with oars, giving the French invasion fleet the aspect of “D-Day at the Cliffs of Dover.”
The history… well, this is a Hollywood movie. Many actual historical incidents are sprinkled through the film — Richard the Lionheart’s death is well-depicted, for example — but events are bent, reordered and out of context. This is, of course, to be expected and it doesn’t bother me unless there’s a willful distortion of the spirit of events.
Robin Hood has been criticized for having too “busy” a plot. I did not find it so. There is a personal story — a disillusioned crusader returning to England and finding purpose in defending the villagers of Nottingham. That is set against a “historical” story in which a sinister agent of the king of France (Mark Strong as a decidedly nasty Godfrey) attempts to provoke a rising of the “barons of the north” through pillage and plunder in order to set the stage for a cross-channel invasion by his master.
It all works solidly, though not brilliantly. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but the film lacks a certain intensity; it doesn’t quite entice the viewer to stake all with the characters, to live and die with them. Robin Hood seems to aspire to the kind of storytelling impact that Braveheart had and it falls well short of that mark.
Nevertheless, it is a worthy movie that should appeal to Howard readers.